UPDATE 5-Credit Agricole to cut jobs as loss looms

Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:05pm EST

* 1,750 jobs to go at corporate and investment bank

* Bank exits 21 of 55 countries

* To shutter equity derivatives, commodities businesses

* To write down 2.5 bln euros for goodwill, equity stakes

* Shares slump 6.7 percent

By Lionel Laurent and Matthieu Protard

PARIS, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Credit Agricole will make a 2011 loss, write off 2.5 billion euros ($3.2 billion) worth of assets and cut 2,350 jobs in a cull of its investment banking operations, the French bank said on Wednesday in its second profit warning of the year.

The warning reflects mounting pressure on lenders to curtail risky activities to meet tougher capital standards even as they wrestle worsening economies and slumping markets. The deepening euro zone debt crisis has slammed French banks in particular as traditional sources of dollar funding have evaporated.

"These are all things we would have expected to happen at some point, but putting it all in one quarter, in this kind of market, is unhelpful," said a London based analyst who did not want to be named. "The stock is at bombed-out levels already ... What will be key in how bad this gets is what they tell us about the ongoing business."

The bank is following in the footsteps of larger domestic rivals BNP Paribas and Societe Generale, which have also announced job cuts primarily in investment banking as they seek to cut debt and wean themselves off funding markets frozen by the economic slump.

The pressure on the French banks' capital and liquidity has led to recurring speculation that they could eventually seek a government bailout, but Credit Agricole Chief Executive Jean-Paul Chifflet denied that it would need any help in reaching stringent Basel III regulations.

"We will meet Basel III with our own resources," he told a conference call.

That will call for some bitter medicine.

Credit Agricole, which in recent years abandoned its humble agricultural origins in favor of international growth, will exit 21 of the 55 countries where it operates and shutter entire businesses like equity derivatives and commodities.

MARKET TURMOIL

The writedown includes 1.3 billion euros to reflect the shrinkage of its investment banking division and 1.23 billion euros as writedowns of minority stakes, such as those in Spain's Bankinter and Portugal's Banco Espirito Santo.

Chifflet said in an interview with Les Echos newspaper that the bank was mulling the sale of stakes in both lenders, although he ruled out the sale of its holding in its Newedge joint venture with Societe Generale.

The bank also shelved its 2014 financial goals and eliminated its dividend for this year to preserve capital.

Analysts had expected France's No. 3 lender to post a full-year profit of 2.4 billion euros after it was profitable in all previous quarters.

In July, Credit Agricole warned that deepening problems at its Emporiki Bank unit in Greece would wipe nearly 1 billion euros off its first-half results.

The job losses include 1,750 at Credit Agricole's corporate and investment bank, which employs 13,000 people, and 600 at its factoring and consumer finance arms.

The bulk of the job losses will take place internationally, although 550 investment banking and 300 consumer finance jobs will be cut in France.

Credit Agricole shares slumped 6.7 percent to close at 4.23 euros, part of a wider rout in French banking shares which saw Societe Generale slide 8 percent and BNP Paribas lose 7.4 percent.

More than six months of intense market turmoil sparked by the euro zone debt crisis is pummelling investment banks globally, denting their bond and stock trading income and sparking a wave of layoffs in Asia, the U.S. and Europe.

JOB LOSS TALLY GROWS

Citigroup was last week among the latest to press ahead with job cuts, while banks in some of the crisis hotspots -- such as Italy's UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo -- are also laying off thousands of people.

More than 120,000 job losses have been announced this year, and many in the industry fear the tally will be greater than at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, as redundancies continue into 2012.

Like its French rivals, Credit Agricole is primarily pulling back in certain financing businesses, such as those in dollars, which have become harder for it to access, and will cut staff accordingly.

It also has a European equity broker, Chevreux, and a majority stake in Asian brokerage CLSA. But the bulk of cuts are likely to fall in fixed-income, which houses its rates and credit divisions, analysts said.

Credit trading in particular has come under pressure at all banks this year as wary investors shy away from the market and new regulation bites.

The recently appointed Chifflet has espoused a back-to-basics focus on retail banking in France and Europe after moves like the purchase of Emporiki backfired, rendering it deeply sensitive to turmoil in the eurozone economy.

Chifflet's team is mulling various ways of bolstering the bank's balance sheet, banking sources say, even though Credit Agricole's robust parent network of regional banks has provided a cushion that has made raising additional capital unnecessary.

This may include more deal-making. The bank is close to announcing the sale of its private-equity activities, while it has also struck a $374 million deal to sell minority stakes in its CLSA and Cheuvreux brokerage brands to Chinese brokerage Citic Securities.

While Credit Agricole would be open to letting Citic increase its stake in the ventures -- now at 19.9 percent -- it aims to at least keep majority control, according to a person familiar with the bank's thinking.

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